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Steelmakers Struggle to Keep Coal in the Furnace

One of these companies deserves a Tony Award for the phenomenal drama unfolding before our Foolish eyes. The boldness with which the world's major miners and steelmakers are competing to secure access to raw materials makes for some serious entertainment. Given the global price inflation on the playbill for Act II of this Shakespearian tragedy, however, this sense of fascination is truly a guilty pleasure.

Fellow Fool David Lee Smith updated Fooldom yesterday with a surprising new twist in BHP Billiton's (NYSE: BHP  ) quest to acquire rival Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP  ) . It seems that steel giant ArcelorMittal (NYSE: MT  ) may also be looking to feast from Rio Tinto's resource-rich trough.

In a related scene, audiences were treated to an encore performance when Korean steelmaker POSCO (NYSE: PKX  ) announced it had purchased a 10% stake in Australian coal miner Macarthur Coal for a bit more than $400 million. POSCO's purchase sought to counter ArcelorMittal's 19.9% stake in Macarthur, and the 17.66% stake held by China's state-run CITIC Resource Holdings.

POSCO, which imports 600,000 tons of coal from Macarthur per year, said it made the move only to secure access to resources, and that it is not geared toward M&A activity. In addition, POSCO is looking to increase investments in material supply companies over the next decade, until 30% of its purchases come from companies in which it is invested.

ArcelorMittal, for its part, recently pulled out of takeover talks for Macarthur, leaving the market to speculate over possible interest from the likes of Anglo American (Nasdaq: AAUK  ) , Xstrata, or Vale (NYSE: RIO  ) . With today's news from POSCO, however, any would-be suitors would have to contend with a 47.56% combined stake among the three major stakeholders. What's more, these stakeholders share a vested interest in blocking further consolidation among the major mining companies, which would create ever-larger, more powerful arbiters of resource prices.

For POSCO and ArcelorMittal, simply preventing Macarthur from ending up in the hands of a megaminer like Vale may be victory enough at this stage of the M&A game.

Further Foolishness:

POSCO is an Income Investor recommendation. Try the market-beating, dividend-focused service today via a free 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Christopher Barker captains yachts and writes about stocks. He can also be found within the Motley Fool CAPS community under the username TMFSinchiruna. He owns shares of BHP Billiton, Anglo American, and Vale. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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